By Alan Shope, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
A group of farmers and business owners is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, claiming the agency mismanaged the Missouri River since 2006 and contributed to major flooding in five states. (AP, File)
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A group of farmers and business owners sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday, seeking compensation for claims the agency mismanaged the Missouri River since 2006 and contributed to major flooding in five states.
The federal lawsuit claims some plaintiffs experienced extensive damage, particularly during the extended 2011 flooding that devastated hundreds of thousands of acres of mostly farmland in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. The plaintiffs are asking for $250 million in their lawsuit.
Four of the last seven years communities along the Missouri River north of St. Joseph, MO, all the way up to South Dakota have been ravaged by flood waters.
"They're taking the river back out and the simple explanation here is they're taking it back to what you see in 1934, and they are intentionally flooding the lands," said Dan Boulware, who represents the plaintiffs.
The 70-page lawsuit says the Corps has deemphasized flood control while deciding how to manage Missouri River reservoirs as part of an effort to restore habitat for endangered species, and it claims that has contributed to more flooding.
"These floods have substantially impacted and destroyed Plaintiffs' land and property, depriving them of its use and enjoyment for extended periods of time and, in some cases, permanently," the lawsuit said. "But for the Corps' departure from its longstanding flood control policies and procedures, most if not all of this flooding would not have occurred at all."
Farmers say this should have never happened and that recent changes to the Corps' policy, mandated by Congress, has caused the flooding that's ruined their land.
"Look at the water levels. You've got six bathtubs. If you're expecting a lot of water coming in from snow melt and rainfall you better drain the bathtub so they can hold it. They didn't," Boulware said.
The farmers say the Army Corp of Engineers is following orders from Congress when it comes to releasing water, and they need to consider people as well as wildlife.
"We're just thinking that, of the eight authorized purposes for managing the Missouri River, that the human aspect, the human consideration, should rise to the top," said Farmer Kenneth Reader.
Officials from the Corps said they don't comment on pending litigation.
Outside experts who reviewed the 2011 flooding said the Corps did the best it could in dealing with record amounts of water that flowed into the 2,341-mile-long river after unusually heavy spring rains in Montana and North Dakota.
The 2011 flooding lasted more than three months after the Corps began releasing massive amounts of water from reservoirs upstream that were filled by melted snow and heavy rains. The floodwaters overwhelmed levees, carved gouges up to 50 feet deep, created sand dunes 15-feet-deep and deposited strange debris on farmers' fields.
The $250 million lawsuit is expected to grow as more farmers affected by the flooding join in.